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23 December 2018

The Four Beastly Regimes Interpreted - (Daniel 7:15-27)

World Map - Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash
Map by Unsplash.com
Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by his dream of the great image (2:1), likewise, Daniel is troubled at the end of his. This is a conceptual link that demonstrates the two visions are directly related.
The four “beasts” represent four kings and their respective kingdoms. In the vision “beasts” were ascending from the sea; in the interpretation “kings” ascend from the earth. The interpretation moves out of the symbolical into the historical. The “earth” represents peoples from which earthly kingdoms originate.
In the vision, a “Son of Man” figure receives everlasting dominion over all nations; in the interpretation the “saints of the Most High” receive it. The “Son of Man” thus symbolizes the people of God.
The verb rendered “rise” in verse 17 is the same one in Daniel 2:21 where God “removes and raise ups kings,” the same verb used repeatedly in Daniel 3:1-18 to describe how Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his idolatrous image. The passage does not state who or what “set up” the four beastly kingdoms; implicit is that they rise in opposition to God’s sovereignty.
Each “beast” represents a “king” and a “kingdom” (7:23), and each is contrasted with the “saints of the most high” that are destined to receive an everlasting kingdom. The saints also constitute an earthly political reality, though of a different nature.
In the vision the “Son of Man” receives everlasting dominion over all nations; in the interpretation the “saints of the Most High” receive it. The “Son of Man” thus symbolizes the people of God.
None of the four kingdoms is identified by name. The interpretation is focused on the last beast and its “little horn.” The first beast almost certainly symbolizes Babylon, the identifications of the remaining three remain uncertain; insufficient data is provided to identify them.
What is provided is general and could fit several different nations. For example, “wings” indicate swiftness in conquest but that has been characteristic of many historical kingdoms. Several empires that succeeded Babylon conquered vast territories over relatively short periods of time; Persia, Alexander, and Rome, for example.
The little horn appeared “stouter than its fellows,” the other ten horns. The “little horn” became more prominent than the others only after it first appeared.  This description parallels one in Daniel 11:36-37 where a future king would “do according to his will and magnify himself above all.”
The “little horn” will “make war with the saints and prevail against them.” “Saints” refers to the same group that is to “receive the kingdom.” But first, the “saints” must endure an assault by this figure and (apparently) defeat at his hands.
This explanation fits the preceding image of the fourth beast that “trampled the remnant with its feet,” the “remnant” being identical with the group against whom the little horn wages war. This understanding is confirmed in the next paragraph where the horn “speaks words against the Most High and wears out his saints” (7:25).
Whether this king attempts to subjugate other nations is not a concern of the interpretation. The focus is on his effort to destroy the “saints.” He will prevail over them “until the Ancient of Days arrives and justice is granted for the saints.” Only when God intervenes on their behalf do they receive the kingdom (7:22).
The ten horns represent ten kings. A horn distinct from the ten is to rise up after the ten have appeared (7:24). This last one is a king “diverse” from the others and “casts down three” of them. Whether the ten kings reign concurrently or consecutively is not stated, though their reigns must precede that of the “little horn.” The rise of the “little horn” after the ten kings demonstrates a temporal sequence.
The little horn “speaks words against the Most High and wears out the saints” (7:25). This expands on the earlier description of its mouth that “speaks great things.” This may include claims of divine authority and status that rightly belong only to Yahweh.  Words that “wear out” the saints suggest royal edicts designed to hurt their well-being.
The “little horn” attempts to “change times and the law.” This confirms its trespass onto divine territory. As Daniel previously declared, God alone is the one who “changes times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21). The little horn will presume upon God’s prerogative.
“Times” is generic (Aramaic, zeman) and can refer to time delimited in any number of ways; weeks, months, years, and so on. The Septuagint Greek version translates the Aramaic with kairos, meaning “season, set time.” In view are the calendrical rituals specified in the Levitical regulations, the annual feasts and weekly Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-4). The “little horn” attempts to change these divine decrees.
The “war” against the saints will last for a “time, times and a dividing of time.” This is sometimes interpreted to be three and one-half years, but the Aramaic is not that precise, which reads “time (singular), times (plural) and part of a time.”  The last clause means any part or portion of a full “time,” however long that may be. It does not necessarily mean a half of a period, only a portion.
The preceding kingdoms “were given lengthening of life for a season and a time.” Since the same temporal terms are applied to the first three kingdoms, and since historically each endured for different lengths of time, the “season and time” is not a literal number. Each was “given” dominion and life by God, the one who changes “times and seasons” (2:21).
The description “time, times and part of a time” is not the duration of the little horn’s reign but the period during which he “speaks words against the Most High,” wars against the saints and attempts to “change times and the law.” Things “given into his hand” signify that God remains in firm control of events.
The period of suffering comes to an end. In contrast, the victory of the saints will endure forever. The little horn loses dominion; he is “consumed and destroyed.” The time of oppression is part of the process to establish God’s kingdom, otherwise, why would God “give” persecuting power to a malevolent ruler?
The interpretation ends with the “kingdom and dominion” given to the “people of the saints.” The kingdom is given to one “likened unto a son of man,” then to the “saints”. The “son of man” symbolizes or represents the saints.
The passage does not present an explicit theology about the Messiah. However, in verse 27 the plural pronoun gives way to a singular: it is “his kingdom” and “all dominions will serve him”. The singular pronouns refer to the “son of man” figure. Whether Daniel intended this switch to refer to a future messianic figure, this grammatical change provided Jesus with the basis for his self-identification as “the Son of the Man.”
The chapter concludes with Daniel troubled and terrified by his vision, indicating he did not understand it. But he kept the matter in his heart. This sets the stage for further illumination in the next vision (8:27, “and I wondered at the vision, but none understood it”).
To this point only the first beast can be identified with certainty, the lion is Babylon. The symbols for the next three are enigmatic and some features may fit more than one historical kingdom.
The pattern of four beasts rising in succession indicates the second, third and fourth kingdoms follow Babylon in sequence. History provides good candidates for the second and third kingdoms, Medo-Persia and Macedonia (Alexander the Great).
Some commentators view Media and Persia as separate powers and interpret the second and third beats accordingly. But in the book of Daniel Media and Persia are consistently a single combined kingdom, the “Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:286:86:12-158:209:1), and this conclusion fits the historical record.
Cyrus the Great annexed Media to his empire in 550-549 B.C., ten years before his conquest of Babylon. Babylon fell to a combined force of Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:28). Media was initially an equal partner in the arrangement but was later overshadowed by Persia. After annexing Media, Cyrus conquered two major rival powers, Babylon (539 B.C.), then Lydia in Asia Minor (546 B.C.).
When Cyrus died his empire stretched from northwest India in the east to the Aegean Sea in the west, the largest empire the world had ever seen. His son, Cambyses (530-522 B.C.), later conquered Egypt and added it to the empire (525 B.C.).
This background fits the bear with one side higher than the other, three ribs in its mouth, and a mandate to “devour much flesh.” The three ribs represent Persia’s conquests of Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt.
The leopard with four wings and four heads “given dominion” fits Alexander the Great and his Macedonian empire (Daniel 7:6). He became king of Macedonia in 336 B.C. and crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. to attack the Persian Empire, which he accomplished by 331 B.C.. Alexander thus conquered the massive Persian realm within three years to establish a Macedonian realm from Greece to India.
Alexander died a few years later (323 B.C.). His death set off a chain of conflicts over succession to the throne. In the end, his empire was divided among four generals, Ptolemy (Egypt), Antigonus (Asia Minor), Cassander (Macedonia), and Lysimachus (Thrace). The winged leopard points to rapidity in conquest, an apt description of Alexander’s rapid conquests. Its four heads point to the empire’s division into four smaller domains after Alexander’s death.
This background points to the very probable identifications of the first three “beasts”: Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Macedonia.  All the provided pieces fit.
The preceding is helpful, but the vision is focused on the fourth beast and its “little horn.”     Most commonly the Roman Empire is proposed as the fourth beast. This may be correct; Rome did absorb what remained of the Macedonian kingdoms when it expanded into the eastern Mediterranean region.
But Rome does not fit comfortably into the picture of ten kings with three removed to make room for an eleventh, regardless of which Roman emperor one selects as the first one (e.g., Sulla, Caesar, Augustus). Rome had many more than ten emperors and nowhere is there a sequence of ten in which three are removed to make way for an eleventh.
The next vision will provide additional information to identify this fourth kingdom and its little horn, which appears again where its origins are linked to Greece, not Rome (8:98:20-25).

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